The Verdi Collection – Usher Hall

Musical Direction and Conduction by Stuart Stratford

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When the pomp and visage of opera rein in, and the lavish nature of sets, costumes and lighting make way for the humbleness of the heart of it all: the music, something quite remarkable can happen. And that’s precisely what occurred at the Usher Hall on Saturday, as Scottish Opera, renowned for their fine execution of set-dressing and costume, allow conductor and the companies musical director Stuart Stratford the opportunity to profess their pride for the orchestra, calling it the: “beating heart” of it all. And so – the musicians take to the stage, away from their pit, and for one night bask in the reverence of the audience’s appreciation.

What you’re left with is something pure, powerful, and a testament to the instrumentals, musicians, and singers on stage. Following on from their 2021 Puccini concert in Dundee’s Caird Hall, Scottish Opera’s delve into the later music of Giuseppe Verdi was a notable way for Stratford to promote this appreciation of the orchestra and toy with a wealth of both familiar and less so pieces for returning audience, and what’s more – makes for an affordable, and accessible entry-level to those keen on the music, but are perhaps not ready for the full shebang just quite yet.

Equally however, to boast and grasp the impressiveness of the stripped-back operatic, a minor misstep in the length of the show, its second act, causes the performance to run a touch later than some audience members cared to remain for but is saved by the power of the orchestra itself – and some rather exceptionally spiffing vocals. For as much as one may attribute the success of the evening to the vocalists, in truth, this evening was (if anything) a mark of skill and testament to the exceptional talent of the Scottish Opera Orchestra. The magnificence of the orchestra benefits tremendously from the space of Usher Hall, offering the music space to stretch and breathe, to unfurl its note to the fullest just at the cusp of its peak.

An evening of debuts across the Central Belt for Scottish Opera, with three of the five performers making these debuts, bass Jihoon Kim, previously performing in the Autumn highlights season, steps in for Bradley Sherratt.

The steady hand throughout was still tenor Peter Auty who rose, quite giddily to the occasion of playing the heroic roles once more. And though Auty’s authority and annunciation serve as a strong foundation of the evening – the debuts of soprano Eri Nakamura and baritone Lester Lynch provide glimmers of strong things to come from their time with the company. Much of the performance was guided through the hands of Nakamura, from their initial fluttering moments onstage in Othello which quickly settled, to their downfall in La Forza as she traversed the range of her emotional register, stronger the warmer the tone of the role/character.

Together, she and Kim possessed a more refined diction of the Italian language through their performances, providing the weight of drama alongside their vocals: Katherine Aiken made the most of what the performance offered them, but perhaps the audience could see a touch more of the debut singer to form a more rounded opinion. But it was Lynch who clearly sought to pursue an emotional performance late into the evening, his lyrical recitation amping up gradually as the evening drew on – becoming more expressive.

The rich tones of the oboe punching through the ballet music of Les vêpres siciliennes before settling into the sharpness of strings or the lachrymose and evocative clarinet accompanied the only real use of props with Violetta’s letters to Alfredo and Alvaro in Forza. A nice addition, a pristine and welcome performance, though brief, of The Four Season: Summer – to aid in unshackling Edinburgh audiences from the residuals of the winter season. A breather and audiences are settled for the main feast – a lengthy, and powerful recital of the opening scene of La Traviata’s second act. The entire scene.

If the intentions of The Verdi Collection were to demonstrate the talent of the on-stage orchestra and its soloists – then the mark was hit early on and continued to impress long into the evening. A night of debuts, there were slivers to cut – moments to round the evening closer to the two-hour thirty mark in its suspected pursuit of new audiences. But those who stayed, those who endeavoured, were instilled with the mark of quality and respect that regular patrons know and trust.

Instilled with the Mark of Quality and Respect

The Scottish Opera collection series continues in March. For additional information about tour dates and other productions, please visit their website here.


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